Julia Alvarez Biography

Julia Alvarez Biography

Julia Alvarez could have died in the Dominican Republic, but her family escaped in time. Though Alvarez was born in New York City, her parents moved back to the Dominican Republic when she was three-months-old. Twice her parents had to flee to the United States to get away from the ruthless dictatorship of Raphael Trujillo. Alvarez’s father, who was involved in an underground movement to rid the Dominican Republic of Trujillo, was a target for assassination.

Although Alvarez has lived most of her life in the States, the novelist dedicates much of her writing to her Dominican roots. She escaped a devastating political regime in her country, learned to deal with prejudice against immigrants in the States, conquered a new language, and found a way to make a living through her favorite thing to do—writing. Not only a great author, Alvarez is a survivor.

Facts and Trivia

  • Alvarez’s first novel, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, was not published until the author was forty-one. “Be patient,” she tells young writers.
  • Alvarez lives on an organic farm with her husband, Bill Eichner. The couple have developed a sustainable co-operative in the Dominican Republic, where they also run a school to promote literacy.
  • Alvarez claims that having to learn a new language (English) when she was ten years old helped her writing because she had to pay so much attention to words.
  • In 1998, Alvarez published a collection of essays, Something to Declare, covering details about her writing life, which she claims has not changed in the past decade.
  • Alvarez’s novel In the Time of the Butterflies is based on the lives of Dominican Republic women, founders of the underground group Alvarez’s father belonged to. These women were not as lucky as the Alvarez family. They were brutally murdered.

Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Julia Alvarez was born on March 27, 1950, in New York. Her family returned to the Dominican Republic, where Alvarez spent the first ten years of her life in comfort, surrounded by an extended family. Alvarez’s grandfather, a cultural attaché to the United Nations, and her uncles, educated at Ivy League colleges, maintained their ties with the United States. Along with her sisters, Alvarez attended the American schools; in her words, she had an “American childhood” on the island.

From 1930 to 1961, the Dominican Republic was under the ruthless dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina, a tyrant who had maintained his hold on power by unprecedented repression. As Trujillo’s thirst for absolute control bred further corruption, Alvarez’s father became involved in anti-Trujillo activities. Alvarez’s idyllic childhood came to an abrupt end when a plot to remove the dictator from power was unearthed. With the looming possibility of Dr. Alvarez’s arrest, the family left for the United States.

Life in Queens, New York, offered a stark contrast to the family’s earlier lifestyle. Her “American childhood” had not prepared the ten-year-old Julia for the realities of American life. She missed her friends and cousins and yearned to be accepted in school, but her accented English set her apart from others. In desperation, Alvarez turned to books and eventually writing, which became a substitute for her island home and initiated...

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Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Alvarez takes her writing seriously; for her it is an important, life-saving activity. When she began her career, there were few authors in English writing about the Latino experience; she was inspired by Maxine Hong Kingston’s renowned book The Woman Warrior (1976). With her first successful novel, Alvarez opened the door for others who have enriched American literature with insights into the Hispanic world.

Initially focusing on the individual experience, Alvarez has gradually expanded her horizon. Her portrayal of the Dominican American world has a wide-ranging appeal. With her vivid and poetic language, she has captured the hearts and minds of her readers.

Biography

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Shortly after Julia Altagracia Maria Teresa Alvarez was born in New York City, her family returned home to the Dominican Republic to live among their large, extended family. In 1960, her father took the family back to New York because he was wanted for his involvement in a failed plot to overthrow dictator Rafael Trujillo. Thereafter, Julia Alvarez lived in the United States, making visits to her extended family in the Dominican Republic. She married and became the mother of two children. Along with her husband, she became involved in the political life of the Dominican Republic.

After two years at Connecticut College (1967-1969), Alvarez transferred to Middlebury College, from which she graduated summa cum laude with her bachelor’s degree in 1971. She earned a master of fine arts degree from Syracuse University (1975) and attended the Bread Loaf School of English (1979-1980). Alvarez taught in poetry-in-the-schools programs in Kentucky, Delaware, and North Carolina (1977-1979). She has been an instructor of English at Phillips Andover Academy in Massachusetts (1979-1981), a visiting assistant professor of creative writing at the University of Vermont (1981-1983), the Jenny McKean Moore Visiting Writer at George Washington University (1984-1985), an assistant professor of English at the University of Illinois, Urbana (1985-1988), and an associate professor of English at Middlebury College (1988-1998). In 1998, she became a writer-in-residence at Middlebury College.

Biography

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Although she was born in New York City, Julia Alvarez spent much of her childhood in the Dominican Republic. Her parents were from the island. Her mother came from a well-positioned and wealthy family, but her father was rather poor. The family’s divided economic position was tied to political problems within the Dominican Republic. Her father’s family, which once was wealthy, supported the wrong side during the revolution and her mother’s family benefited by supporting those who gained power. Julia’s family, although poorer than most of their relatives, enjoyed a privileged position in the Dominican Republic.

Although she was raised in the Dominican Republic, Alvarez describes her childhood as “an American childhood.” Her extended family’s power, influence, American connections, and wealth led to Alvarez’s enjoying many of the luxuries of America, including American food, clothes, and friends. When Alvarez’s father became involved with the forces attempting to oust the dictator of the Dominican Republic, Rafaél Leonidas Trujillo Molina, the secret police began monitoring his activity. Immediately before he was to be arrested in 1960, the family escaped to America with the help of an American agent. In an article appearing in American Scholar (“Growing Up American in the Dominican Republic”) published in 1987, Alvarez notes that all her life she had wanted to be a true American girl. She thought, in 1960, that she was going to live in her homeland, America.

Living in America was not quite what Alvarez expected. As her fictional but partly autobiographical novel How the García Girls Lost Their Accents (Alvarez) hints, Alvarez was faced with many adjustments in America. She experienced homesickness, alienation, and prejudice. Going from living on a large family compound to living in a small New York apartment was, in itself, quite an adjustment. Alvarez’s feeling of loss when moving to America caused a change in her. She became introverted, began to read avidly, and eventually began writing.

Alvarez attended college, earning degrees in literature and writing. She took a position as an English professor at Middlebury College in Vermont. She has published several collections of poetry, but her best-known work is her semiautobiographical novel How the García Girls Lost Their Accents. Alvarez can be praised for her portrayal of bicultural experiences, particularly for her focusing on the women’s issues that arise out of such an experience.